A heterosexual 41 year-old Tennessee Mason, minister, and father of three has been expelled from the Grand Lodge of Tennessee for violating their rule that forbids, in part, "promoting homosexuality."
Worshipful Brother Tag Thompson (photo above) was expelled in March after a Grand Lodge trial commission found him guilty of "promoting homosexuality," based on a Facebook post from last October in which he offered his services as a minister to gay couples seeking a celebrant for their marriage ceremonies.
A quite lengthy article about this incident appeared on May 14th on the Chattanooga Times Free Press website by reporter Wyatt Massey, which is where I'm drawing much of this information. Unfortunately, the article is hidden behind a paywall, so I will only excerpt parts of it here. However, the Pressreader website does have the text of the story HERE.
Back on October 27, 2020, Thompson posted the following message on his Facebook page:
"I have LGBTQ+ friends who are worried about being able to marry in the future. If that is you, know that I am a licensed and ordained minister. No matter what happens I will be your officiant if you need me. #theycantmakethatcall."The Grand Lodge of Tennessee's code, Sec. 4.2105 (27), specifically states that it is a Masonic offense to "To engage in lewd conduct. To promote or engage in homosexual activity. To cohabit immorally in a situation without the benefit of marriage." That Tennessee rule has been in place for more than 35 years, and has been upheld and reaffirmed by the voting members of Grand Lodge several times, in spite of attempts to amend or remove it.
(Just as a matter of idle curiosity, one can't help but wonder if the last part of Tennessee's rule declaring unmarried cohabitation to be a Masonic offense has ever been used in the last decade or two to expel any heterosexual members for living with their ladies, unfettered by a marriage license. But I digress.)
Tag Thompson joined the fraternity in 2015 and served as Worshipful Master of Chattanooga Lodge 199 in 2018. The charges against him were not brought by anyone in his own lodge. They were actually brought by Brother David Bacon, a Mason from a lodge in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee (presumably Soddy Lodge 418).
WB Thompson was not accused of being gay himself, but of promoting homosexuality through his position as a minister. Massey's article describes his background:
Thompson, the son of missionaries, spent most of his childhood in Central America before returning to the Chattanooga area to study at Tennessee Temple University and Bryan College. He was ordained in the Southern Baptist Convention, he said, and worked as a pastoral intern at Stuart Heights Baptist Church in 2004.According to the Massey article, Chattanooga Lodge members supported him and originally considered conducting a lodge trial on their own friendly ground. But Thompson and his local brethren decided to opt for a Grand Lodge Trial Commission instead. They wanted, in part, to determine whether or not Tennessee's current leadership would firmly stand by their rule, or soften their stance, based on the widespread international Masonic condemnation over this same rule seven years ago.
Doing mission work in South Africa as a young adult changed the way he felt about the place for the LGBTQ community in the Christian faith. He moved away from the baptists and more toward the non-denominational house church movement, in which parishioners gather to worship in private homes. He is now the lead minister for the Tapestry, a local non-creedal community that does not espouse a central set of beliefs.
From the article:
Thompson's trial was a closed-door affair, like many aspects of Freemasonry. He appeared in a Dayton lodge on Feb. 27, 2021, before a three-man panel of other Tennessee Masons, according to records from the process.Thompson now hopes the story of his expulsion will motivate more Tennessee Masons to remove the rule from their code.
Similar to a judicial trial, Thompson had a Masonic lawyer, and so did the plaintiff. The affair lasted around four hours, Thompson said, though he sensed the outcome early on.
"Honestly, the trial was over before it started," he said.
Thompson chose not to testify.
Steven C. Bullock, history professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts and author of "Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order," said the Masons have a history of finding common ground between men of conlficting religions or those facing other divides, something that is hard to achieve when members — even from neighboring lodges — start policing each other's differences.
"The idea of bringing people together, of connecting and people being brothers, regardless of who they are, it's kind of, it's kind of a part of the American tradition too," Bullock said by phone. "The key foundations of Masonry are creating some sort of sense of brotherhood, of inclusiveness, of family between people who are otherwise distant from each other and different from each other. And that's been the long, long history of the fraternity, right from the beginning.
"Now you have this kind of just trying to circle the wagons, which is just a very difficult kind of thing," Bullock said. "Not very healthy."
Bullock said it's significant the grand lodge handled the matter because the traditional role of the grand lodge is "to keep peace within the community, and wanting to keep growing and expanding and bringing people in."
On March 15, 2021, Thompson received a letter from the state's grand secretary containing the verdict: "The defendant, Brother Thompson, was found guilty of the charges and we received the sentence of expulsion," the letter read. "... The member is not eligible for restoration."
"Every close friend that I had, every close male friend that I had in the world at that point was a Mason. I mean, it's who I hang out with. I mean, it's a brotherhood, so I was incredibly close to these people," Thompson said. "And when you're expelled from Freemasonry, you're basically out. So I lost all of those friendships. Every single one of them. I haven't seen any of those people in, I'm not sure. Well, since that day."
That story eventually hit the local papers, TV stations, Chattanooga National Public Radio, and eventually the national news. It remains to be seen if the press and the Masonic community will react similarly to Thompson's story.
In the U.S. apart from Tennessee, it should be noted that only the Grand Lodge of Georgia has a similar ban on homosexuals as part of their official code. Georgia's began as an edict issued in 2015 by then-Grand Master Douglas McDonald on the heels of the Supreme Court's landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision that gave constitutional guarantees for gay marriages. McDonald's edict was made part of Georgia's code by the assembled voting members of the Grand Lodge in 2016. (McDonald ultimately resigned from Freemasonry in 2019 for "religious reasons.")
Masonic responses to the 2015 Tennessee story became something of an avalanche. Grand Lodges of the District of Columbia, California, New York, Belgium, France, the Netherlands all withdrew recognition of Tennessee (as well as Georgia, in some cases) over the no-homosexual policies. Countless other grand lodges and grand masters around the world issued impassioned statements in 2015-16 strongly condemning such rules at that time. A 2016 attempt to insert a similar ban on homosexuals in the Grand Lodge of Mississippi failed — that proposed resolution didn't even have enough support to be sent to the jurisprudence committee for consideration. An even earlier homosexual ban was proposed back in 2010 in the Grand Lodge of Kentucky. It also failed overwhelmingly.
The news caused a stir in Masonic lodges across the country, and in other parts of the world. The news drew rebuke from grand lodges in Maine, Washington D.C., California and Belgium. Many grand lodges do not have laws banning gay members, although Georgia's in 2015 prohibited homosexuality in its ranks. In 2010, Kentucky's grand lodge voted down a proposal to create such a rule.To my recollection I did NOT say that "many religions affirm homosexuality." I can't seem to find where Massey got this idea. What I may have said at the time was that many denominations or individual churches affirm or welcome homosexuals as part of their congregations. Some mainstream churches, synagogues, temples, and even large national or international denominations have open homosexuals in their congregations, permit and perform gay marriages, and allow gay members to join their clergy. But I certainly do not know of a large religious body or faith tradition that favorably "affirmed" or favorably mentioned homosexuality as part of their doctrine or scriptural origin, prior to the 20th and 21st centuries.
After the Tennessee vote, Chris Hodapp, an Indiana Mason and a prominent writer on the brotherhood, wrote on his Freemasons for Dummies blog that many religions affirm homosexuality and that the prioritizing of one religion's tenets goes against the nature of Freemasonry.
The organization was designed to bring people together, Hodapp wrote.
"In your own Masonic career, you have undoubtedly made friends with men you otherwise would never have met, never socialized with, never sat in church with, never have given a second thought to," he wrote, in the March 25, 2016, post. "That is what makes this fraternity unlike any other. But I have heard from dozens of good Masons who have given much of their time and treasure to it, who are now leaving because we have failed to live up to the promises we made to them when they joined."
Read the entire article HERE.